Innovative practices and organizational context: A qualitative study of development disability service agencies

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Teaching and Leadership


Steven Taylor


Innovative, Organizational context, Development disability service agencies, Service agencies

Subject Categories

Education | Special Education and Teaching


Services for people with disabilities have been reconceptualized several times throughout U.S. history. Beginning with the development of institutions in the mid 1800s, services evolved into a continuum-based approach that included smaller settings, to the current movement to develop a more personalized response to individuals. Though it has gained widespread acceptance as a concept, efforts to implement person-centered services have resulted in varying outcomes. As with other attempts to improve services, traditional practices of segregating and controlling the lives of people with disabilities continue (Bercovici, 1983; Braddock, Hemp, Parish, & Rizzolo, 2000). The literature related to this new approach includes descriptive information about new ways of developing and providing services as well as benefits to people with disabilities (Bradley, Ashbaugh, & Blaney, 1994; Conroy, 1996). There has been limited consideration, however, of how the various organizational contexts in which it is being implemented might influence the degree to which innovation is possible. In this study I examine the effort to develop person-centered services in eight different organizations.

The organizations were selected based on the fact that they were successfully providing person-centered services on some level and yet different in terms of size, history, and other characteristics. Through participant observations and interviews, I examined their efforts to develop this approach, seeking information about what contributed to their success as well as what influenced whether or not an agency was moving in this direction on a full scale. While six of the agencies were working to develop the approach for all of the individuals receiving their services, the other two were developing it on a limited level. Differences in the agencies' capacity for person-centered services were found to be related to four aspects or dimensions of organization: agency characteristics, images of people with disabilities, images of organizing, and approaches to policy. When examined from these dimensions, the agencies could be categorized as three distinct types. Based on this understanding of how different organizational contexts influence the development of person-centered services, a number of considerations are raised for policy makers and organizational leaders.


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